J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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His letters were really very interesting indeed and
so were hers, although of course in an entirely differ-
ent way. She was kept abreast of the military situa-
tion and the latest Service gossip, with spicy yarns
of the Toffs with whom he rubbed shoulders as an



equal in the B.B., not omitting the details of an ever-
ripening friendship with Private Stanning, who, how-
ever, was soon to acquire the rank of a full corporal.
Melia, of course, had not the advantage of this range
of information or contiguity to high affairs, nor did
her letters sparkle with soldierly flashes of wit and
audacity, but week by week they gave a conscientious
account of the state of the business, of sales and pur-
chases, of current prices and money outstanding, all
in the manner of a careful bookeeper, who, now she
had been put on her mettle, was able and willing to
show that the root of the matter was in her.

Bill, in consequence, had to own that the business
in all its luckless history had never been so flourish-
ing. They didn't like admitting it, but in their hearts
they knew that this new prosperity was directly due
to "the damned interference" (military phrase) of the
august proprietor of the Duke of Wellington. Some
men are hoo-doos, they are born under the wrong set
of planets; whatever they do or refrain from doing
turns out equally unwise. W. Hollis Fruiterer had al-
ways been one of that kind. If he bought a barrel
of Ribstone Pippins they went bad before he could
sell them, if he bought William pears they refused to
ripen, if he bought peas or runner beans he would have
done better with gooseberries or tomatoes; anything
he stocked in profitable quantities was bound to be
left on his hands. But the lord of Strathfieldsaye was
another kind of man altogether. He simply couldn't



do wrong when it came to a question of barter. Up
to a point a matter of judgment, no doubt, but "judg-
ment" does not altogether explain it. There is a subtle
something, over and beyond all mundane wisdom, that
confers upon some men the Midas touch. Everything
they handle turns to gold. Josiah Munt was notori-
ously one of that kind.

Certainly from the day he touched the moribund
business of W. Hollis Fruiterer with his magic wand,
it took a remarkable turn for the better. Mr. Munt's
own explanation of the phenomenon was that for the
first time in its history it was run on sound business
lines. That had something to do with the mystery of
course; not only was Josiah a man of method and
foresight, he was also a man of capital. Money makes
money all the world over; and of that fact Josiah's
ever-growing store was a shining proof.

Not until the middle of the summer did Bill get
leave again. And then there was a special reason
for it. The Battalion had been ordered to France.
That was an epic Saturday evening in July when he
came home with full kit, brown as a bean, hard as
a nail, in rare fighting trim. Time was his own un-
til the Thursday following, when he had to go to
Southampton to join the Chaps.

Martial his bearing at Christmas, but it was nothing
to what it was now. There seemed to be a conscious-
ness of power about him. For one thing he was wear-
ing the stripe of a lance corporal. Then, too, he was



a small man, and, as biologists know, small men al-
ways have a knack of looking bigger than they are
really. Physically speaking, great men are generally
on the small side, perhaps for the reason that they
have more vitality. Certainly Corporal Hollis, on the
eve of his Odyssey, looked more important than the
neighbors ever thought possible. Poor Melia began
to wonder if she would be able to live up to him.

Melia had never been to London and when Bill pro-
posed that she should accompany him to the metrop-
olis and see him off from Waterloo the suggestion
came as quite a shock to a conservative nature. It
meant almost as much as a journey to the middle of
Africa or the wilds of the Caucasus to more traveled
people. She was not easily fluttered ; hers was a mind
of the slow-moving sort, but it was only after a night
and a day, fraught with grave questionings, that she
finally consented to do so.

For one thing the shop would have to close for
twenty-four hours, at least; besides, and a more vital
matter, even her best dress was nothing like fash-
ionable enough for London, the capital city of the
empire. Both these objections were promptly over-
ruled. An obliging neighbor during the last few
months the neighbors had proved wonderfully oblig-
ing consented to take charge of the shop in Melia's
absence; while at the psychological moment a para-
graph appeared in the Evening Star saying that as
the Best people were making a point of wearing old



clothes, any attempt at fashion in war time was bad
taste. This interesting fact left so little for further
discussion that at a quarter past nine on the morning
of an ever-memorable Wednesday they steamed out
of Blackhampton Central Station, London bound.

It was the beginning of a day such as M-lia had
never known. Looking back upon it afterwards, and
she was to look back upon it many times in the days
to follow, she felt it would have been impossible to
surpass it in sheer human interest. Even the jour-
ney to such a place as London was thrilling to one
whose travels by train had been confined to half a
dozen visits to Duckingfield, two to Matlock Bath and
one to Blackpool at the age of seven, nice places yet
relatively unimportant in comparison with the capital
city of the British Empire.

As the train did not leave for Southampton until
well on in the evening they had about eight hours in
which to see the sights. And so much happened in
those eight hours that they made a landmark in their
lives. Indeed they began with so signal an event that
the muse of history peremptorily demands a past chap-
ter in which to relate it.


AS soon as he arrived in the metropolis, Corporal
Hollis with Melia rather nervously gripping his
arm stepped boldly into the Euston Road to have a
look at London. Almost the first thing he saw was
a Canteen, a token that at once reminded him that
his rifle and kit were heavy, that the wife and he had
breakfasted rather early and rather hurriedly and that
nothing at that moment could hope to compare with
a couple of ham sandwiches and a cup of coffee.

When the question was put to Melia she was in-
clined to think so too, although far too bewildered
by the mighty flux around her to give any special
thought to the matter. However very wisely, nay
providentially, as it turned out, after a moment's hesi-
tation they decided to cross the road and follow the
promptings of nature. As they passed through the
inviting doors of the Canteen there was nothing to
tell them that anything particular was going to hap-
pen, yet perhaps they ought to have remembered that
this was London where the Particular is always hap-

They had not to fight their way through a crowd 'in
order to get in or anything of that sort. Nor were



people walking on one another's heads when they did
get in. There was plenty of room for all. Full pri-
vates were in the majority, but the non-commissioned
ranks were also represented, among whom was a
Scotsman who had risen to be a sergeant. But Cor-
poral Hollis appeared to be the only warrior who had
brought his lawful wedded missus. It was a breach
of the rules for one thing, but there was any amount
of room, and he managed to stow her away in a quiet
corner where they could have a table to themselves;
and then he moved across to a cubbyhole where a
nice fatherly old sportsman with side whiskers and
brown spats relieved him of his rifle and kit and gave
him a card with a number in exchange. Then the
gallant Corporal, a composite of well-bred diffidence
and martial mien, sauntered up to the counter at the
end of the room where a Real Smart Piece in a mob
cap and jumper gave him the smile interrogative.
After a moment's survey of the good things around
him, he magnificently went the limit. The limit was
ninepence: to wit, two fried eggs, a rasher of bacon,
bread and butter and a cup of tea; in this case ditto
repeato, once for himself, once for Melia.

The Corporal was by no means sure that the R.S.P.
would stand for a Twicer but she was one of the noble
breed that prefers to use common sense rather than
raise obstacles. After one arch glance in the direction
of Melia she booked the order without demur.

In the process of time the order was executed and


they set to upon this second breakfast with a breadth
of style which almost raised it to the dignity of lunch-
eon. By the time they were through it was half-past
midday already, and they were discussing this fact
and its bearing on the general program when the great
Event began to happen.

It came about unobtrusively, in quite a casual way.
Neither the Corporal nor his lady paid much attention
at first, but of a sudden the nice fatherly old sports-
man who had relieved the former of his rifle and kit
came out of his cubbyhole and a dashing trio of
R.S.P.'s emerged from a mysterious region at the back
of beyond, proving thereby that the counter had no
monopoly of these luxuries, and the Scotch sergeant
moved a pace or two nearer the door, where the Lon-
don daylight seemed a bit better in quality, and then
Bill's R.S.P., who was absolutely the pick of the
bunch, although such comparisons are invariably as
idle as they are to be deplored, was heard to use a word
that appeared to rhyme with Mother.

Of course it could not have been Bother or any
word like it. And whatever it may have been, was
not, at that moment, as far as the Corporal and
his lady were concerned, of the slightest importance.
To them it meant nothing. It meant less than noth-
ing. For a startling rumor was afoot. . . .

The Queen was coming.

William was a military man and fully determined
to bear himself with the coolness of one on parade,



out his air of stoicism was but a poor cloak to his
feelings. As for Melia, if not exactly flustered, she
was excited more than a little. Still in this epic mo-
ment it was a strengthening thought that she had
had that yard and a half of new ribbon put on her

That was an instance of subconscious but pro-
phetic foresight. There was nothing to tell her that
the first lady in the land would nip across from Buck-
ingham Palace as soon as she heard that Bill was in
London. It was hardly to have been expected. In
the first place it was truly remarkable that she should
so soon have heard of his arrival. And of course it
was by no means certain that this casual and informal
visit of hers was inspired by William. In fact if you
came to think of it

But there was really no time to weigh the pros and
the cons of what after all was a superfluous inquiry,
for a commotion had arisen already beyond the farther
door. And even at this late moment, and in spite of
a general stiffening of the phalanx of R.S.P.'s and
other details, and the stately advance of the nice old
warrior through the swing doors into the Euston
Road, even then Corporal Hollis, with true military
skepticism, was not sure that it was not an Oaks.

However the question was soon settled. The com-
motion increased, the throng of important looking
people surprisingly grew, and in the midst of it ap-
peared a lady whom William and Melia would have



known anywhere. She was remarkably like her por-
traits except that the reality surpassed them. There
was a great deal of bowing and walking backwards
and the serried rows of R.S.P.'s made curtsys, and
then all ranks stood up and removed their hats. Wil-
liam and Melia stood up too, but only William doffed
his helmet.

It was the Scotsman who claimed the first share
of the august visitor's notice. Her eye lit at once on
this son of Caledonia, who unconsciously, by sheer
force of climate, began to tower above all the rest,
returning answer for question with inimitable cool-
ness and mastery. All the Saxons present were lost
in envy, but they were fain to acquiesce in the stern
truth that nature has made it impossible to keep back
a Scotsman. In spite of top hats and swallow-tails
it was clear at a glance that he was the best man

All the same the august visitor, helped by a simple
and friendly lady who accompanied her, contrived to
distribute her favors impartially. The son of Cale-
donia was so compelling that it would have been a
pleasure to talk to him for an hour, but duty and jus-
tice forbade, and she found a smile and a word for
humbler mortals. Among these, and last of all in
her tour of the large room were Bill and Melia.

Corporal Hollis could not be expected to display
the entrain of a sergeant of the Black Watch. Be-



sides he had yet to cross the water whereas Caledo-
nia's son was a hero of Mons and the Marne. But
the gallant corporal did his regiment no discredit in
that great moment, likewise his wife Melia, nor famed
Blackhampton, his fair natal city.


WHEN about twenty minutes later William and
Melia, haloed with history, emerged from the
precincts of the Canteen, and as they did so treading,
in a manner of speaking, the circumambient air, they
were at once confronted by the spectacle of Bus 49
next the adjacent curb. And Bus 49, according to its
own account of the matter, was going amongst other
places to Piccadilly Circus.

It was the first visit of the Corporal to the metropo-
lis, but in his mind was lurking the sure knowledge
that Piccadilly Circus was the exact and indubitable
center thereof ; and by an association of ideas, he also
seemed to remember that Piccadilly Circus was where
the King lived. Such being the case, the apparition
at that moment of Bus 49 was about as providential
as anything could have been.

It was the work of an instant to get aboard the
gracious engine, so swift the workings of the human
mind in those dynamic moments when Fate itself
appears, as the sailors say, to stand by to go about.
Moreover the conductor had politely informed the
Corporal that there was room for two on the top.

That was a golden journey, a kind of voyage to


silken Samarcand and cedared Lebanon, allowing of
course for reduction according to scale. So miracu-
lously were their hearts attuned to venturing, that for
one rapt hour they drank deep of poetry and romance
this glorious midday of July.

Bus 49 knew its business thoroughly, no bus bet-
ter. Instead of turning pretty sharp to the left into
that complacent purlieu Portland Place, as a bus of
less experience might have done in order to follow
the line of flight of some mythical crow or other, it
chose to go on and on, past Madame Tussaud's, the
Hotel Great Central, and then by a series of minor
but hardly less historic landmarks along Edgware
Road to the Marble Arch, thence via Park Lane to
Hyde Park Corner.

No doubt Bus 49 had ideas. The ordinary machine
of commerce would have got from Euston to Picca-
dilly Circus in two shakes of a duck's tail. Not so
this accomplished metropolitan, this gorgeous midday
of July. From Hyde Park Corner it proceeded to
Victoria, thence via the Army and Navy Stores to the
Houses of Parliament, down Whitehall, past the lions
and Horatio, Viscount Nelson, past the Credit Lyon-
nais, up the Haymarket and so at last to Swan and
Edgar's corner, where William and Melia dismounted,
thrilled as never before in all their lives.

Piccadilly Circus, all the same, was a shade disap-
pointing. It was not quite so grand as they expected.
The Criterion was just opposite, but they looked in



vain for the King's residence. There did not appear
to be a sign of that. Bill, however, noticed a police-
man, and decided to make inquiries.

"I want Buckingham Palace, please," said the
wearer of the King's uniform.

Constable X 20, an intelligent officer, told the gal-
lant corporal to walk along Piccadilly, to which fa-
mous thoroughfare he pointed with professional ma-
jesty, to turn down the street of Saint James, to keep
right on until he got to the bottom and then to ask

The constable was thanked for his lucidity and Wil-
liam and Melia proceeded according to instructions.
Along Piccadilly itself their progress was a triumph.
For, as Melia was quick to observe, all the best peo-
ple saluted Bill. Of course they could tell by the
stripe on his sleeve that he had been made a corporal,
but such open, public and official recognition of his
merit was intensely gratifying. Brass-hatted, berib-
boned, extraordinarily distinguished looking warriors
were as punctilious as could be in saluting Bill. Those
placed less highly, the rank and file, the common
herd, paid him less attention, but what were these in
the scale of an infinitely larger and nobler tribute?
By the time William and Melia turned down Saint
James his street, had an observant visitor from Mars
had the privilege of walking behind them he would
have been bound to conclude that the most impor-
tant man in the Empire was Corporal Hollis.



He would not have been alone in that feeling for
Melia was in a position to share it with him. In fact
by the time they had traversed the historic thorough-
fare and had reached Pall Mall the feeling dominated
her mind. On every hand the great ones of the earth
mustered thicker and thicker, but they kept on salut-
ing Bill. Such a reception was hardly to have been
expected at the center of all things, yet in those thrill-
ing moments so proud was Melia of her man that it
did not seem very surprising after all.

They crossed the road to the fine and ancient build-
ing with the clock on it, and after making quite sure
that the King didn't live there a pardonable delu-
sion under which for a moment they had labored
they proceeded past it, leaving Marlborough House on
the port bow, and then suddenly, as they came into
the Mall, they caught a first glimpse of that which
they were out for to see.

Converging slowly upon the King's residence Me-
lia's courage began to fail.

It was a very warm day for one thing. And the sen-
try in his box, noi to mention his brethren march-
ing up and down in front of the railings, may have
daunted her. Moreover, the Palace itself was an
exceeding stately pile. Besides, she had seen the
Queen already. And Bill had passed the time of day
with her. Thus it was, gazing in silent awe through
those stern railings across that noble courtyard, Melia
suddenly made up her mind.



"No, Bill, I don't think I'll see the King to-day
not in this dress."

Corporal Hollis looked solemnly at the dress in ques-
tion and then at its wearer. "It's as you like, you
know, Mother," he said,


AFTER that they walked about for a while, but
the day was terribly hot, and all too soon the
process of seeing London on foot amid the dust of a
torrid July began to lose its charm for Melia. Be-
sides, had they not seen the best of London already?
Piccadilly Circus, it was true, was a washout; but
they had seen Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Par-
liament, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, and
the outside of Madame Tussaud's. Even in such a
place as London what else was there to compare with
these glories?

Such skepticism, however, was not according to the
book, and the Special Providence which had been de-
tailed to look after them on this entrancing day was
soon able to bring/that fact to their notice. For when
they had come to the quadriga at the southwestern
extremity of the Green Park, an equestrian piece which
in the opinion of Corporal Hollis would have done no
discredit to the recognized masterpieces in Blackhamp-
ton's famous gallery, and they had sincerely admired
it and the Corporal had placed his judgment on rec-
ord, lo! beyond the arch, a short stone's throw away,
a certain Bus, 26 by name, the exact replica of Bus



49, that immortal machine, was miraculously await-
ing them.

Bus 26 was going to the Zoological Gardens. And
the highly efficient Special Providence who had the
arrangements in hand had contrived to book two
places on the top. That is to say its conductor in-
formed the Corporal with an indulgent smile that
there was just room outside for one and a little one.
Whether the conductor would have extended the same
accommodating politeness to a mere civilian belongs
to the region of conjecture, but room was undoubtedly
found for the Corporal's lady, and by taking upon
his knee a future Wellington under the shadow of
whose effigy the pleasing incident occurred in the
person of a Boy Scout in full panoply of war, the
gallant Corporal contrived to make room for himself

At the Zoological Gardens they admired George,
although rather glad to find that he was only a distant
relation. They pitied the polar bears, they shuddered
at the pythons, the parrots charmed them, the larger
carnivora impressed them deeply! and then the Cor-
poral looked at his watch, found it was a quarter to
four and promptly ordered an ample repast for two

The Genie in attendance made no bones at all about
finding a small private table for them, beneath the
shade of a friendly deodar which gave a touch of
the Orient to the northwestern postal district and there



they sat for one sweet and memorable hour. Per-
haps it was the sweetest, most memorable hour that
life so far had given them. She admired this man
of hers in a way she had long ceased expecting to
admire him; she was proud of him, she was grateful
to him for the great sacrifice he was making. And
when the inner Corporal had been comforted, a crude
fellow who has to be humored even in moments of
feeling, and he had lit a Blackhampton Straight Cut,
a famous sedative known from Bond Street to Bag-
dad, he took the hand of the honest woman opposite.

Somehow he was glad to think that she belonged
to him. The rather pale face, the careworn eyes,
the tired smile were all he had to nerve him for the
task ahead. These his only talisman in this grim hour.
Yet, a true knight, he asked no more. She was his,
a homely thing but a good and faithful one, who
had once believed in him, who had come to believe
in him again. He was able to recall the sacrifices
she had made for him, for her faith in him, for her
vision of him. As he looked across at her he felt
content to bear the gauge of this honest, doggedly
courageous woman who had helped to buckle on his
armor. He must see that he didn't disgrace her.

There was not much to say to one another. At the
best of times they were seldom articulate. But she
was able to tell him that she would be very lonely
without him. And she made him promise solemnly
to do his best to come back to her safely.


"You mean it?" He knew she meant it, but he
allowed himself the luxury of embarrassing her.
There was a subtle pleasure in it, even if it was not
quite fair.

"You know I do, Bill. I'll be that lonely."

Poor old girl! Of course she would be lonely. It
made him sigh a little when he thought how lonely
she would be. He looked at her with a rather queer
softness in his eyes. Their marriage seemed to have
brought them no luck in anything. A time there had
been, a time less than a year ago, when he had felt
very thankful that there had been no children to has-
ten their steady, hopeless drift downhill. Now, how-
ever, it was a different story. Poor Melia ! Her hand
responded to the pressure of his fingers; and a large
tear crept slowly into eyes that had known them per-
haps too seldom.

"Never mind, Mother," he said softly. "I mean
to come back."

"Yes, Bill." The words had a curious intensity.
"I mean you to. I've set my mind on it. And if
you really set your mind on a thing happening '

He loved the spirit in her, even if he felt obliged to
touch wood as a concession to the manes of wisdom. (
It didn't do to boast in times like these.

Presently they noticed that the heat was less. Bill
looked again at his watch and then they realized that
the hour of parting had drawn much nearer. Reluc-
tantly they got up and left the gardens, so putting an


end to an hour of life they would never forget. Then
arm in arm they walked to Euston which was not far
off, where the Corporal retrieved his kit from the
Canteen and exchanged a valedictory smile with a

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 8 of 18)